Bennett, Lapid Expect Islamist Party to 'Unfreeze' Coalition Role as Knesset Returns From Recess

The United Arab List is likely to return to voting with the coalition at least on some bills, after a symbolic protest over Israel's policies concerning Al-Aqsa, but demanded progress on key promises

United Arab List Mansour Abbas at the Knesset in October.
United Arab List Mansour Abbas at the Knesset in October.Credit: Dani Shem Tov/Knesset

The leaders of Israel's government expect the United Arab List to resume voting along coalition lines as the Knesset opens its summer session next Monday, after the Islamist party "froze" its role in the coalition, citing Israeli policies on Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Officials said that after a meeting with the United Arab List party leader, Mansour Abbas, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid both felt Abbas was ready to reverse his largely symbolic April decision to halt parliamentary collaboration with the ruling coalition.

The Knesset has been in recess for the entire time the United Arab List said it was suspending its membership in the coalition.

The Islamic Movement's Shura Council – a group of religious leaders advising the United Arab List – decided on the move in an emergency meeting called after tensions escalated on the Temple Mount. It may meet again next week to discuss the party's next moves.

Party sources say the United Arab List may initially only support some government-backed bills and help to block opposition-sponsored legislation, rather than join the Bennett-Lapid coalition on all votes.

The party doesn't intend to bring down the government, the sources said.

In any case, because of the equal number of lawmakers in the coalition and opposition, after Yamina lawmaker Idit Silman quit the coalition, the government intends to focus on passing pieces of legislation that have the support of at least some members of the opposition.

Most of the demands raised by Abbas in his meetings with Bennett and Lapid, and on which he conditioned the return of his party to the coalition, were already part of the coalition agreements, though some have been slow to advance. Now the party is demanding progress.

The demands mostly involve allocating resources to the Arab community as part of the five-year plan, as well as recognition of Bedouin communities in the Negev. Abbas told Bennett that some of the actions needed to advance the recognition of the Bedouin towns are being held up in the interior and housing ministries headed by ministers Ayelet Shaked and Zeev Elkin respectively. Bennet is expected to speak with Shaked to move the process along, said political sources.

Political sources say the only demand that Abbas' party raised with the coalition leadership concerning the Temple Mount was to preserve the religious status quo on not allowing Jews to visit the compound during the last 10 days of the month of Ramadan.

Sources in the coalition said that Abbas knew in advance his request would be granted anyway, as Jews are banned from the holy site every year during the end of Ramadan.

In spite of Abbas’ desire for the United Arab List to remain in the government, it is not yet clear how the rest of his party’s lawmakers will act, and specifically Mazen Ghanayim.

Ghanayim called for members of his party to leave the coalition, as opposed to just freezing their membership of it, during last month's clashes on the Temple Mount. But party sources said Ghanayim does not plan to carry out his threat immediately after the Knesset returns from its recess.

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